Construction expo opens with high hopes among some vendors

A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
Expo visitors explore loan possibilities at this Banco de
Costa Rica booth.

Standing just outside of his half log cabin, Antonio Flores stood waiting and hoping.

This year has not been a great year for his small architecture business, Alternativos Maderables Ambientales, which specializes in wooden cabins, and he was looking to change his fortune in the last couple months of the year.

From his far corner in the Centro de Eventos Pedregal, Flores could look out across the room and see dozens of other businesses where more people stood anxiously waiting. Beyond the far wall were several more rooms, which in total held displays of nearly 200 businesses.

“I hope this event raises our sales,” he said.

The event was The ExpoConstrucción y Vivienda 2012 Edición Especial, a five-day event that started Wednesday afternoon, organized by the chamber of construction. The event is called a special edition because the event has been held in February for 12 years, and this is the first time that the chamber is holding two expos in one year.

According to the chamber, nearly 200 businesses will be present and over 500 booths set up for customers to browse different options for anything from tiles and sinks to condominiums and houses.

The companies involved range from small, locally-owned businesses like that of Flores to international corporations.

Bernardo Marques also stood waiting in the opening hours of the event at the booth of his employer, ArcelorMittal, one of world’s largest international steel suppliers.

The company has sponsored or contributed materials for buildings like the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London, a public art piece which was commissioned for the Olympic Games, and the Shanghai World Financial Centre, the second tallest building in the world. Marques also said that the company has two factories in Costa Rica and has between 75 and 80 percent of the Costa Rican market-share for steel.

Marques explained that a company that large was not at the fair to sell steel on the spot, but more to have a presence in the community of the construction industry and to answer technical questions from local construction companies using the firm’s steel.

“It’s very important for people who have doubts about our products,” said Marques. “We have employees who can sort out any kind of inquiry.”

“We have so many products and sometimes they’re not applied correctly. So we’re here to help the customer better use our products.”

Across the aisle was the larger booth of Impersa, a Costa Rican company that produces mortar, concrete mixes and dozens of other construction materials that are sold in retail stores. Massive signs around the booth that said “30” indicated that the company is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Jimmy Vargas, one of more than a dozen Impersa spokesmen on hand Wednesday afternoon, explained that they also were not there to sell to the do-it-yourself customer and they did not have any of their products on hand to sell. Rather the company was looking to make an impression with engineers looking for construction materials.

Also to make an impression, Impersa’s booth also had a table stocked with hors d’oeuvres and several bottles of Johnnie Walker Red and Bailey’s.

“Everybody is coming here, and we’re talking about different products,” said Vargas. “It’s good for everybody.”

As the afternoon went on, more and more customers began to trickle in. People seemed to congregate around particular areas such as the Banco de Costa Rica booth, the expo’s official sponsor, which had more than a dozen terminals for people to apply for loans to buy homes. Also, employees and customers alike gathered around booths with television sets to watch a soccer match.

Other customers were visibly on the hunt to see what companies were offering at this expo.

One such customer, Dagoerto Cascante, was searching for a good deal on ceramic tiles for his house. He had his wife and two daughters in tow. This was his first time at the expo and he said he heard that there were good deals, but he said he was unable to find any. “At this moment, we haven’t been able to find good prices,” he said.

Other customers were just browsing, such as Juan José Li Cordero, who was looking around to see if he could find anything new or interesting for his architecture practice.

“I like to see what new things they are showing,” he said.

For Flores, this is the third straight time in two years that he has had a booth in the expo to generate interest in his 14-year-old business

He started the firm after finishing his studies with the intention of building wooden cabins that did not harm the environment. To that end, he uses only trees from plantations for his cabins.

“I have been in love all my life with the beach and the mountains,” said Flores. “It made me sad to see the way people use wood and destroy the forests.”

In the past two expos, he has had both success and disappointment. His first time in the expo kicked off a great year, but this year has been very slow for him and he said he hopes he can turn it around in the final months of the year.

“The first time was excellent, the second time was okay and this time I hope it’s good,” he said. “You cannot stop working just because you had a bad year.”

The expo started yesterday and will run through Sunday at the Pedregal center in San Antonio de Belén. Admission is free today and tomorrow. Over the weekend admission for adults is 2,000 colons, while seniors and children 12 and under are free.

The expo will be open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., except on Sunday when it will close two hours earlier.

A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
Antonio Flores and his log cabin.

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